Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Killing at Liverpool Liz's Place

            Liverpool Liz was no beauty, but she was a smart business woman. In a time when it was not only unusual, but illegal for women to serve drinks in a bar, she owned one of the more successful and memorable bars in Portland – the Senate Saloon. Stewart Holbrook, Portland’s famous low-brow historian, included Liz, along with Mary Cook and Nancy Boggs, as one of Portland’s Three Sirens. Although Holbrook is not a very reliable source, Liz was one of the more memorable characters from turn of the twentieth century Portland. When she died in 1913 at the age of sixty, she was a wealthy woman. Her saloon and dancehall, which provided more intimate entertainment upstairs, was a well known North End landmark.
            Her real name was Elizabeth Young, married name Hutchinson, but she was better known as Lizzie Smith or just Liverpool Liz. She was born in Wales around 1853 and came to Portland around 1890. By 1892 the Oregonian said she was well known in the Police Court after a series of arrests for disorderly conduct, a Victorian euphemism for prostitution. A few years later the Senate Saloon, more commonly referred to as Liverpool Liz’s place, at the corner of NW 2nd and Davis, was one of the most popular hangouts for sailors and working men of all kinds. The Grain Fleet, which carried wheat between Portland and Liverpool, England made regular trips and brought a large number of British sailors to town. They always felt right at home at Liverpool Liz’s place.
            In the nineteenth century Portland was renowned as a “wide open” town where a man could get a drink, a game or a woman any time. The reputation made Portland, especially the North End dangerous. A man, or a woman, carrying cash was liable to be drugged and robbed. Crimps, sailor’s boardinghouse men who made their living by supplying sailors to the ships in the harbor, voluntarily or not, prowled the neighborhood and men were regularly tricked or kidnapped into service. Liverpool Liz had the reputation of being honest, whether that reputation was deserved or not is up in the air. Sailors or loggers who came to town with their pay in their pocket could turn it over to Liz. She would lock it up with the owner’s name on it in her big safe, a painting of Niagara Falls on the door. There might not be anything left of the cash when the man was ready to ship out, but he could count on getting good value for it in drugs, drink or women.
Liverpool Liz was known as an art lover and her bar was decorated with pictures like the Spider Girl.

            Not everyone would agree that Liverpool Liz was an honest saloon keeper. In 1903 Joseph Gilmore of Oak Point, WA claimed that he had been drugged in the Senate saloon and robbed of $25 [more than $600 in 2013]. He demanded that the city License Committee pull Liverpool Liz’s liquor license. Liz laughed off the charges, claiming that Gilmore never had $25 all at one time in his life. Her connection with Larry Sullivan, the crimp and political boss of the North End, protected her from any action by the city. Liz had relationships with several dishonest saloon keepers, most notably Bob Patterson, who was run out of town more than once, and Harry Bush, who went to jail for assaulting Liz and taking a shot at her in a dispute over her failed Bicycle Park in North Portland. Crimes of all kinds occurred at Liverpool Liz’s place on a fairly regular basis. One of the worst occurred on March 25, 1905.
            That evening Nora Stone, Blanche Thompkins and May O’Brien, prostitutes who lived and worked at Liverpool Liz’s place went out to dinner with Joseph Moeller, an old friend of Stone’s. Nora Stone, sister of the famous catcher of the Portland Browns baseball team Danny Shea, had worked off and on as a prostitute in the North End for about fourteen years. She was married to Fred Stone, a local fireman who was notorious for drunkenness and domestic violence. In April, 1905 she brought charges against her husband for beating her and he was held in the Multnomah County jail while she moved into the upstairs portion of the Senate saloon. Blanche Thompkins, an old friend of Stone’s had been working for Liverpool Liz for some time.
            Moeller, who had known Nora Stone for years, said she was a very quarrelsome woman and she had been in a bad mood that night when they dined in a French restaurant on 6th street. During dinner harsh words were exchanged between the three women and Stone struck both Thompkins and O’Brien. At one point Moeller told Stone to shut her mouth and stop quarrelling. She told Thompkins that she would get even when they got home.
            Blanche Thompkins, a California native claimed to be the daughter of the chief justice of the California Supreme Court. She had spent several years in the Oregon State Insane Asylum in Salem before coming to Portland and beginning to work as a prostitute for Liverpool Liz. She claimed that in 1904 Pittsburg millionaire Walter Henry Thompkins had met and married her while on a visit to Portland. Walter Thompkins had gone on to China after visiting Portland and Blanche Thompkins’ stories were unverified. The Oregonian said that Blanche Thompkins was obviously well educated and showed no signs of insanity.
            When they returned to their rooms above the Senate saloon, Nora Stone began the quarrel again. She came into Thompkins’ room, struck her and grabbed her by the hair. Blanche was holding a lighted oil lamp in her hand when Stone grabbed her hair. She said it was an accident that the lamp fell from her hand and spilled burning oil over her and Stone. Thompkins quickly put out the flames on her dress and ran from the house. A few minutes later Fred Tenant, who worked as a bartender downstairs, ran upstairs and found Nora Stone engulfed in flames. He threw a heavy quilt over the woman, but she had been severely burned. She died a couple of weeks later at Good Samaritan Hospital.
            Blanche Thompkins, who was probably an alcoholic, went out drinking after the quarrel. She returned to her room about 10 p.m. and was arrested for assault. When Stone died the charges against Blanche were changed to second degree murder. At her trial Thompkins said that Stone’s death had been an accident. Several witnesses, including Moeller, O’Brien and Liverpool Liz herself gave testimony that backed up Thompkins’ story and she was acquitted.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Rimrock Barbecue

            The Rimrock Barbecue was a popular restaurant and nightclub on N. Columbia Boulevard that opened in 1959. The owner, Horace Crouch, of the well known Portland family of restaurateurs, opened the Rimrock Barbecue shortly after testifying in front of the Senate Racketeering Committee during the Portland Vice Scandal that saw the indictment of the Chief of Police, District Attorney and Mayor. Crouch had been only peripherally involved in the scandal as the owner of the Mount Hood Café, where he had gambling machines owned by Stan Terry on the premises. His business had been badly disrupted by Teamster pickets when they attempted to take control of slot machines and pinball machines in Portland. It is possible that in addition to a full bar and live Country Western music the Rimrock Barbecue offered gambling as well. That may have been the reason it was the target of one of the most violent armed robberies in Portland’s history.
            On October 8, 1966 business was booming at the Rimrock. Buddy Simmons, a popular local Country Western singer with both a local radio and TV show, performed at the club that night and by the time they closed at 2:30 a.m. there was more than $2,000 ($13,000 in 2011) in the restaurant’s safe. There was a fairly large staff on hand to close up the restaurant; two bartenders, Jimmy Lee and James Callahan; a doorman, Glenn Irvin; and two waitresses, Shirley Alexander and another woman whose name was never released. In addition Horace Crouch, the owner, was on hand with his wife, Arlene, and Arlene’s sister, Lucille, Glenn Irvin’s wife. While they were closing up for the night two men, face’s covered with black stockings, forced their way into the restaurant.

Dale Zitek had a long police record that included violence.

            Dale Zitek, a local burglar who had a history of violence, especially against police and Richard G. Johnson, an armed robber from Tacoma, had met in the Oregon State Penitentiary. Shirley Alexander had seen Zitek in the Rimrock with a group of people, which may have included Johnson, earlier in the evening. The two robbers, outnumbered by their victims, used outrageous violence to gain the upper hand. Armed with revolvers, the two men beat their victims severely with tire irons as soon as they were inside the door. Glenn Irvin was injured and the two bartenders were beaten into submission. Zitek held them at gunpoint, along with the waitresses and Mrs. Irvin, while Johnson went to work on the Crouches.
            Horace Crouch was 63 years old and he had suffered two heart attacks in the last two years. The last one had been in July and he was still recovering. Crouch knew the fragile state of his health and he cooperated fully with the robbers, opening not one, but two safes and giving them all the cash that he had on hand. Johnson was not satisfied. Someone had told him that there was a third safe and he was convinced that the restaurant owner had more than $7,000 ($43,000 in 2011) on the premises. Johnson beat both Crouches severely with a tire iron, trying to force them to give up the rest of the money. Johnson’s information was probably wrong, because Horace Crouch was heard to yell more than once, “Take the money. You’re killing me.”
            During the beating Horace Crouch suffered a severe heart attack and passed out. The two robbers were not satisfied with the $2,000 they had been given. Zitek first took Shirley Alexander into the office in an attempt to find the mythical third safe. He forced her to take off her clothes, terrorized her and then made her return naked to the main part of the restaurant. When they returned they forced staff to empty their pockets. When Glenn Irvin was only able to hand over $40 Johnson said it was “chicken feed” and beat him again with his tire iron. Zitek then took Mrs. Irvin into the office and made her strip while she tearfully told him he had all the money in the place. During this the unnamed waitress managed to sneak out a back door. She ran across the street to a bowling alley and called the police.

Richard Johnson met his partner in crime while serving a sentence for armed robbery.

            Zitek and Johnson panicked when they heard sirens approaching. Zitek ran for the backdoor, but Johnson wasn’t fast enough; Lee, Callahan and Irvin jumped him and beat him within an inch of his life. Zitek, with his revolver in his hand ran into the alley behind the restaurant and nearly collided with Multnomah County Deputy Macil “Mack” Flye. The two men began firing at each other from less than four feet away.
            Deputy Flye, who was an officer in the Oregon National Guard and an expert marksman, had fired his weapon in the line of duty for the first time only two weeks before. Zitek got off the first shot and Flye felt the bullet pass through the fleshy part of his arm. He kept a cool head and a steady hand and he pumped six bullets into the robber’s body. Zitek continued to shoot, hitting Flye twice more; once in each leg. Zitek was hit in each leg, twice in the chest and twice in the shoulder. Flye’s grouping was so tight that at first doctors though that Zitek had been hit with only four of Flye’s shots. During his post mortem, nearly ten days later, doctors discovered that all six shots had hit their target. Later Deputy Flye, who had been worried about the two errant bullets, was quoted in the Oregonian, “I’m not paid to miss.”
            Horace Crouch was in critical condition when he arrived at Emanuel Hospital, suffering from cardiac arrest. He died three days later. Zitek was in a coma for several days, waking up only once. Upon awakening Zitek asked about the cop he shot. When told he was recovering well, Zitek said, “I should have shot him in the head.” Zitek died from his wounds nearly ten days later. Macil Flye took a long time to recover and walked with a limp for years after the shooting, but he returned to duty and continued to rise up the ranks; eventually commanding the county river patrol before retiring in the 1980s. The rest of the victims recovered from their physical injuries, but they probably suffered from the effects of trauma for a long time. In January, 1967 Richard Johnson returned to the Oregon State Penitentiary with a life sentence for the murder of Horace Crouch.